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At Luzerne Market, much is happening in reaction to pandemic

At Luzerne Market, much is happening in reaction to pandemic

From the Coronavirus collection: March 22 through April 15 series
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LAKE LUZERNE — James Mackey, 38, and co-owner (with his uncle) of the Luzerne Market, was speaking rapid-fire in a voice midway between a drill sergeant’s and a sleepwalker’s.

“Business is up 100 percent. We’re doing better than summer hours. We just bought a walk-in freezer. We were doing a lot of addition, remodeling, then all this happened.

“Our average sale was 15, 17 dollars. Now people are buying more, stocking up I guess. Because we have a better supply of groceries, people are coming here from other places.”

Luzerne Market has become the definition of an essential business. The town has no other place to buy groceries, except the limited selection at Dollar General and the even more limited selection at Stewart’s.

“Our store’s not big enough. Normally, we did 50 pounds of burger a day. We did 300 pounds the other day,” he said.

Mackey’s family has owned the store for 40 years, but he only has been running it by himself for about two. He recently moved into the apartment above the store, then worked 40 hours straight, developing laryngitis in the process and losing his voice for four days.

He wrote notes and put them up everywhere, which worked so well, he wanted to pretend he still couldn’t speak after his voice came back.

“I’ve never seen them work so hard,” he said of his staff.

He told the staff that anyone who considered themselves at-risk during the pandemic could take time off, and he gave them all an extra week of sick pay.

Everyone who stayed on the job got a “hazard pay” raise of $3 an hour.

He reconfigured the back of the shop so deliveries could be made outside, instead of having deliverers come into the shop to restock, and he knocked a hole in the wall by the parking lot for drive-up orders.

His voice is still gravelly from the laryngitis, and he has a few days’ worth of dark stubble on his chin and neck. He appears exhausted and indefatigable at the same time, marching from station to station in the store — deli, beer cave, makeshift office — and skipping from one subject to the next.

Rock ‘n’ roll blasts down the aisles from speakers that he just set up, making it even harder to follow his patter.

“I’d like to see how the numbers work, but I haven’t had time,” he said, referring to the increase in business and in payroll expense. “I’ve got guys jackhammering in the basement. We created six virtual computers so some people can work remotely.

“We’ve gone into like full-on martial law. It all just came back like second nature.”

Mackey was a reservist in college, then served overseas in 2005 and 2006.

The store is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., but with cleaning and restocking, they’re working around the clock, he said. On a recent morning, 15 people were in line waiting for the store to open.

He set up special hours, early and late in the day, for elderly customers and those with weakened immune systems.

He called his mother recently about organizing a blood drive at the store, maybe in the parking lot. He managed to order face shields, which should be coming “in about three days,” and he’s going to have the cashiers and other staff who interact with the public wear them.

He employs about a dozen people, but “I’m going to need someone for the drive-up window,” he said.

Will Doolittle is projects editor at The Post-Star. He may be reached at will@poststar.com and followed on his blog, I think not, and on Twitter at

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